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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
23 Aug 2009
The bravura performance by Ferruccio Furlanetto in the title role is spoiled by the kitschy and incoherent staging of this production. Mefistofele is unique among operas based on the Faust legend in that it rather closely adheres to Goethe’s version.
Indeed, the original, no longer extant,
version of this work was approximately six hours in length. Even in the
severely truncated revised version, Mefistofele has always proven
itself to be a serious work, with a libretto that (like Busoni’s
Doktor Faust) has some real literary merit. Unfortunately, following
the reigning spirit of Regieoper in Europe, director Miguel Del Monaco
and set designer Carlo Centolavigna have all but denuded this great opera of
its serious intent.
Opting for a 20th-century setting (which in and of itself is not a problem),
the “creative” team behind this production has missed the central
point of Boito’s (and by extension, Goethe’s) drama, namely, the
age-old Platonic opposition of the real and the ideal, in this case,
represented by the Margherita/Elena (Helen of Troy) duality. While the
ever-reliable Dimitra Theodossiou is afforded the opportunity to continue the
tradition of performing both roles, the intention behind this appears to be
economic rather than dramatic.
Act I is set in Frankfurt during Easter Sunday, but it is in the Germany of
the 1920s, not during Martin Luther’s time. This is at best a
questionable tactic because the seemingly peaceful interregnum of the Weimar
Republic had such terrible consequences in the following decades. Overloading
the already heavily-laden symbolism of the Faust legend with the tragedy of
modern German history helps to obscure Faust’s personal dilemma. Adding
to the incoherence of the staging, Del Monaco then proves not to have the
courage of his convictions by at least being consistent with the historical
implications of his staging of Act I, and sets Act IV, the Night of the
Classical Sabbath, in Las Vegas. Helen of Troy is reduced to being a showgirl
in a tawdry stage show and her attendant Nymphs reminded me of the June Taylor
Dancers who used to open the Jackie Gleason TV Show of the 1960s with overhead
shots featuring kaleidoscopic choreography.
The ultimate consequence of this staging of Mefistofele is that the
characters of Faust and Margherita/Elena are reduced to mere appendages of
Mefistofele’s mercurial personality. One of the problems with this opera
has always been the overshadowing of Faust and Margherita by Mefistofele. Del
Monaco’s staging has exacerbated tenfold this dramatic disparity.
The one saving grace of this production is Ferruccio Furlanetto’s
Mefistofele. His performance incorporates a spectacular bass voice with
animated acting. The acting, at times, may appear to be a bit over the top, but
it is forgivable given the imbecility of the staging. Indeed,
Furlanetto’s performance helps to divert attention away from the visual
and back to the musical, and for that we must be grateful.
To be charitable to the performers, I thought that the singers and orchestra
performed rather well, but at times it was difficult to gauge this accurately
since this DVD suffers from very poor balance. Even allowing for the recording
difficulties inherent in a live performance, there is really no excuse in this
day and age for a professionally recorded DVD to have such poor audio
This DVD will have appeal mostly to fans of Ferruccio Furlanetto. My advice
is to turn off the video and listen to the voice.
William E. Grim